17th Century Silver Treasure Hidden during Bulgarian Catholics’ Uprising against Ottoman Empire Discovered in Northwest Bulgaria

Silver adornments from the newly found 17th century treasure discovered near Montana in Northwest Bulgaria. Photo: National Museum of History

Silver adornments from the newly found 17th century treasure discovered near Montana in Northwest Bulgaria. Photo: National Museum of History

A treasure consisting of silver adornments which was most probably buried in the fall of 1688 during the so called Chiprovtsi Uprising, the largest rebellion of Bulgarian Catholics against the Ottoman Empire, has been found near the city of Montana in Northwest Bulgaria.

The treasure has been found by locals and has been turned over to the National Museum of History in Sofia which has announced its discovery.

It notes that the silver treasure consisting of nearly a dozen female adornments dates back to the second half of the 17th century, and is very likely to have been hidden during the Chiprovtsi Uprising, a major rebellion organized by Roman Catholic Bulgarians, with the participation of Eastern Orthodox Bulgarians, seeking to liberate Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire.

In 1396 AD, all of the Second Bulgarian Empire was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks (even though some free territories in the west might have survived into the early 15th century), ushering into the period known in Bulgarian history as the Ottoman Yoke, which lasted until Bulgaria’s National Liberation in 1878 (1912 for some regions).

During this period, the Bulgarian haiduti (haiduks) staged guerrilla warfare, numerous local revolts, and several major uprisings seeking to overthrow the Ottoman Empire which were all crushed with heinous atrocities by Ottoman troops and irregulars.

One of these uprisings was the Chiprovtsi Uprising based in the town of Chiprovtsi (Chiprovets) in Northwest Bulgaria, which had emerged as a thriving center of Roman Catholic Bulgarians in the 17th century (in contrast to the overwhelming majority of the Bulgarian population which has been Eastern Orthodox since the 9th century) whose community was led by Bulgarian leaders and clerics educated in the Vatican such as archbishop Petar Bogdan Bakshev (1601-1674) and archbishop Petar Parchevich (1612-1674).

The Chiprovtsi Uprising broke out after the army of the Austrian Empire captured Belgrade during the Great Turkish War of 1683-1699, with the insurgents hoping to receive aid from the Austrian forces. For the most part, their hopes failed to materialize and they were routed by the Ottoman troops, who annihilated the entire population of the region and sold the survivors into slavery.

The decisive battle of the Chiprovtsi Uprising took place in October 1688 near today’s city of Montana (then known as Kutlovitsa), which is where the newly found silver treasure of female adornments has been discovered.

It is believed it was buried while the local population was fleeing from the atrocities of the Ottoman forces.

The silver adornments from Northwest Bulgaria in greater detail. Photos: National Museum of History

The silver adornments from Northwest Bulgaria in greater detail. Photos: National Museum of History

Silver Chiprovtsi 2 Silver Chiprovtsi 3 Silver Chiprovtsi 4 The treasure consist of a tiara, two adornments worn on the forehead, a pair of ear tabs, additional elements connecting the pieces, a pair of earrings, and two rings.

“All of the items are made of silver. The treasure was probably a “family fortune"," says the National Museum of History.

Before it was buried, the treasure was wrapped in a leather purse, of which decomposed parts have been found.

“[It can be concluded] with great certainty [that] the treasure was hidden during the turbulent days of September-October 1688 when the residents of the thriving towns of Chiprovtsi, Kopilovtsi, Klisura, and Zhelezna rose against the Ottoman authority," the Museum notes.

It adds that the silver items were most probably produced by some of the then numerous silver and gold smiths in the town of Chiprovtsi which were known across Eastern Europe. In their making, the unknown smith used complex metalwork techniques such as filigree and granulation, with traces of niello and glass-like cover painted in green.

The Museum explains that the development of silver and gold smiths in the region of Chiprovtsi was based on the extraction of silver ore from deposits developed in the 16th and 17th century.

In fact, the very emergence of the town of Chiprovtsi and the nearby settlements in this mountainous region of Northwest Bulgaria is connected with the discovery of the deposits after the second half of the 15th century when the towns were settled by Bulgarian Catholic and Orthodox Christians as well as Saxon (German) miners who were assimilated among the Bulgarian population.

The region of Chiprovtsi was enjoyed relative freedom from the Ottoman authorities.

“Thanks to this relative freedom of the local population, in the 17th century the town emerged as a center of the Franciscan Catholic propaganda in Bulgaria. The local Catholic Monastery St. Mary (Virgin Mary) was the residence of the Catholic archbishops of Bulgaria," says the National Museum of History.

It concludes that the prosperity of Chiprovtsi ended in October 1688 when the troops of the Sofia beylerbey Egen Pasha crushed the Uprising of the local Bulgarian Catholics. The locals who survived the pogrom and escape capture, emigrated to Wallachia north of the Danube.

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A map showing the region of the Chiprovtsi Uprising in 1688. Map: Wikipedia

A map showing the region of the Chiprovtsi Uprising in 1688 in Northwest Bulgaria. Map: Wikipedia

Learn more about the archaeology and history of the city of Montana in Northwest Bulgaria in the Background Infonotes below.

Background Infonotes:

The early history of today’s northwestern Bulgarian city of Montana is primarily associated with the Ancient Roman military camp and later city and fortress of Montanesium, initially known as Castra ad Montanesium (“castra" meaning “camp" in Latin) from the Roman Antiquity period (1st-4th century AD). However, the earliest traces of civilized life on the territory of Bulgaria’s Montana date to the Chalcolithic Age (Aeneolithic, Copper Age), from the 5th-4th millennium BC, and have been discovered in the lower archaeological layers on the site of the Montanesium Fortress. During the 1st millennium BC the place was inhabited by the independent Ancient Thracian tribe Triballi, which was allied with the Odrysian Kingdom, the most powerful Ancient Thracian state. From this period, the Montanesium Fortress features preserved sections of the pre-Roman, Ancient Thracian fortress wall, over 1 meter thick, which is located under the Roman fortress’s large fortress tower.

The Roman Empire conquered the region of Montana in today’s Northwest Bulgaria around 29 BC (all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube was conquered by Ancient Rome in 46 AD) setting up a military camp, Castra ad Montanesium, on top of the existing Ancient Thracian settlement. The archaeological sources about the history of the Roman city of Montanesium come largely from Roman epigraphic monuments. The Romans were interested in the region of Montana because of its ore deposits and the opportunities for mining gold, silver, lead, and iron, especially along the Ogosta River and the Zlatitsa River. The region was one of the major gold mining centers in the Balkan Peninsula in the 1st-3rd century AD. The earliest known Roman military detachment to set up camp at Montanesium in the 1st century AD was Cohors Sugambrorum. The epigraphic monuments indicate the intensified presence of Roman servicemen from Legio I Italica (Italian First Legion) and Legio XI Claudia (Claudius’ 11th Legion) from the first half of the 2nd century AD until the middle of the 3rd century AD; Numerus Civium Romanorum was stationed there in the first half of the 3rd century AD, and Cohors III Collecta – in the middle of the 3rd century AD.

The Roman military camp Castra ad Montanesium is mentioned in an inscription from 134 AD; as a result of its development as a settlement, in 160-161 AD, it received the status of a Roman city – municipium – with its own territory (Regio Montanesium) likely corresponding to today’s Bulgarian District of Montana located between the Danube River to the north, and the Balkan Mountains to the south. It was part of the Roman province Moesia Superior where it was the second most important city after the arsenal city on the Danube, Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria), whose ruins pillaged by modern-day treasure hunters can be found today near Bulgaria’s Archar. In 271 AD, Roman Emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275 AD) transformed the province of Moesia Superior into the province of Dacia Aureliana with its capital at Serdica (today’s Sofia), after vacating Dacia Traiana beyond the Danube. Around 283 AD, Dacia Aureliana was divided into two provinces, Dacia Mediterranea, with its capital at Serdica, and Dacia Ripensis (“Dacia from the banks of the Danube") with its capital at Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria), and Montanesium as its second most important city. The name of Montanesium is known from several epigraphic monuments from the 2nd-3rd century AD. Its etymology probably stems from the Latin words “mons" (mountain) and “montani" (mountaineers). Specific hypotheses about its origin range from the name of a Roman military detachment called Cohors Montanorum, which was stationed there in the second half of the 1st century AD (whose presence, however, is only indirectly implied in the sources), to the city’s location at the foot of the Balkan Mountains, and to a cult shrine in the pre-Roman settlement.

The Fortress of Montanesium also had a large water spring. It was the site of an ancient rock shrine which was an important cult center during the Roman Age when pilgrims worshipped there a number of Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman deities, including Diana and Apollo, who were the city’s Hellenistic Age patrons, as well as Jupiter, Dionysus, Roman god of woods and fields Silvanus, medicine god Asclepius, also known as Aesculapius, and his daughter Hygieia, Thracian supreme god Heros, also known as the Thracian Horseman, Hermes, Heracles (also known as Hercules), Mars, Persian deity Mithra (Mitra), and the spring nymphs. Bulgarian archaeologists excavating the Ancient Roman city of Montanesium have discovered numerous sculptures, votive tablets, and inscriptions left as gifts by a wide range of pilgrims from the military, civilians, aristocrats, and common folk.

Barbarian invasions by the Goths in the middle of the 3rd century AD disrupted the life of the Roman city of Montanesium leading to a reconstruction of its fortress. At the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century AD, around the time of the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306-337 AD), Montanesium flourished together with the numerous Roman villas in its suburbs. The Antiquity shrine and the Roman villas were destroyed at the end of the 4th century AD in a new wave of Gothic invasions. Between 440 and 490 AD today’s Northwest Bulgaria was overrun by the Huns and the Goths; Montanesium waned until the 6th century AD when it was ultimately destroyed by the barbarian invasions of Avars and Slavs (between 500 and 560 AD), like the rest of the Roman cities in today’s Northern Bulgaria. The Slavs who settled there named the city Kutlovitsa which remained its name during the Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages. At the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire, in the 12th-14th century AD, Kutlovitsa was the center of a Christian eparchy.

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